The Call of Colthulhu
By Horse Pony Lovecraft
(Found Among the Scrolls of the Late
Francis Wayland Horseton, of Hoofington)
"Of such great powers or beings there may be conceivably a survival . . . a survival of a hugely remote period when . . . consciousness was manifested, perhaps, in shapes and forms long since withdrawn before the tide of advancing equinity. . . forms of which poetry and legend alone have caught a flying memory and called them gods, monsters, mythical beings of all sorts and kinds. . . ."
The Horse in Clay.
The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the pony mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The magics, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.
Theosoponists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world ponykind form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism. But it is not from them that there came the single glimpse of forbidden aeons which chills me when I think of it and maddens me when I dream of it. That glimpse, like all dread glimpses of truth, flashed out from an accidental piecing together of separated things—in this case an old newspaper item and the notes of a dead professor. I hope that no one else will accomplish this piecing out; certainly, if I live, I shall never knowingly supply a link in so hideous a chain. I think that the professor, too, intended to keep silent regarding the part he knew, and that he would have destroyed his notes had not sudden death seized him.
My knowledge of the thing began in the winter of 1926–27 with the death of my grand-uncle George Gammell Angelsnap, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Ponidence, Rode Island. Professor Angelsnap was widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions, and had frequently been resorted to by the heads of prominent museums; so that his passing at the age of ninety-two may be recalled by many. Locally, interest was intensified by the obscurity of the cause of death. The professor had been stricken whilst returning from the Newpony boat; falling suddenly, as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a nautical-looking zebra who had come from one of the strange striped courts on the precipitous hillside which formed a short cut from the waterfront to the deceased's home in Williams Street. Medical Ponies were unable to find any visible disorder, but concluded after perplexed debate that some obscure lesion of the heart, induced by the brisk ascent of so steep a hill by so elderly a horse, was responsible for the end. At the time I saw no reason to dissent from this dictum, but latterly I am inclined to wonder—and more than wonder.
As my grand-uncle's heir and executor, for he died a childless widower, I was expected to go over his papers with some thoroughness; and for that purpose moved his entire set of files and boxes to my quarters in Hoofington. Much of the material which I correlated will be later published by the Equestrian Archaeological Society, but there was one box which I found exceedingly puzzling, and which I felt much averse from shewing to other eyes. It had been locked, and I did not find the key till it occurred to me to examine the personal ring which the professor carried always in his pocket. Then indeed I succeeded in opening it, but when I did so seemed only to be confronted by a greater and more closely locked barrier. For what could be the meaning of the strange clay bas-relief and the disjointed jottings, ramblings, and cuttings which I found? Had my uncle, in his latter years, become credulous of the most superficial impostures? I resolved to search out the eccentric sculptor responsible for this apparent disturbance of an old pony's peace of mind.
The bas-relief was a rough rectangle less than an inch thick and about five by six inches in area; obviously of modern origin. Its designs, however, were far from modern in atmosphere and suggestion; for although the vagaries of ponism and futurism are many and wild, they do not often reproduce that cryptic regularity which lurks in prehistoric writing. And writing of some kind the bulk of these designs seemed certainly to be; though my memory, despite much familiarity with the papers and collections of my uncle, failed in any way to identify this particular species, or even to hint at its remotest affiliations.
Above these apparent poniglyphics was a figure of evidently pictorial intent, though its impressionistic execution forbade a very clear idea of its nature. It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an monkey, a dragon, and a pony caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. Two pulpy, tentacled hooves spread out from a grotesque and hairless body like rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful. Behind the figure was a vague suggestion of a Cycloponean architectural background.
The writing accompanying this oddity was, aside from a stack of press cuttings, in Professor Angelsnap's most recent hand; and made no pretence to literary style. What seemed to be the main document was headed "COLTHULHU CULT" in characters painstakingly printed to avoid the erroneous reading of a word so unheard-of. The scroll was divided into two sections, the first of which was headed "1925—Dream and Dream Work of Horse. A. Wilcolt, 7 Thomas St., Ponidence, R.I.", and the second, "Narrative of Inspector John R. Legrasse, 121 Bienville St., New Orleans, La., at 1908 A. A. S. Mtg.—Notes on Same, & Prof. Webb's Acct." The other scrolls were all brief notes, some of them accounts of the strange dreams of different ponies, some of them citations from theosophical books and magazines (notably W. Scolt-Elliot's Marelantis and the Lost Lemarea), and the rest comments on long-surviving secret societies and hidden cults, with references to passages in such mythological and ponipological source-books as Frazer's Golden Bough and Miss Murray's Witch-Cult in Western Equestria. The cuttings largely alluded to outré mental illnesses and outbreaks of group folly or mania in the spring of 1925.
The first half of the principal scroll told a very peculiar tale. It appears that on March 1st, 1925, a thin, dark-coated young colt of neurotic and excited aspect had called upon Professor Angelsnap bearing the singular clay bas-relief, which was then exceedingly damp and fresh. His card bore the name of Horse Anpony Wilcolt, and my uncle had recognised him as the youngest son of an excellent family slightly known to him, who had latterly been studying sculpture at the Rode Island School of Design and living alone at the Fleur-de-Lys Building near that institution. Wilcolt was a precocious youth of known genius but great eccentricity, and had from foalhood excited attention through the strange stories and odd dreams he was in the habit of relating. He called himself "magically hypersensitive", but the staid folk of the ancient commercial city dismissed him as merely "odd". Never mingling much with his kind, he had dropped gradually from social visibility, and was now known only to a small group of aesthetes from other towns. Even the Ponidence Art Club, anxious to preserve its conservatism, had found him quite hopeless.
On the occasion of the visit, ran the professor's scroll, the sculptor abruptly asked for the benefit of his host's archaeological knowledge in identifying the poniglyphics on the bas-relief. He spoke in a dreamy, stilted manner which suggested pose and alienated sympathy; and my uncle shewed some sharpness in replying, for the conspicuous freshness of the tablet implied kinship with anything but archaeology. Young Wilcolt's rejoinder, which impressed my uncle enough to make him recall and record it straight from the horse's mouth, was of a fantastically poetic cast which must have typified his whole conversation, and which I have since found highly characteristic of him. He said, "It is new, indeed, for I made it last night in a dream of strange cities; and dreams are older than brooding Tyre, or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon."
It was then that he began that rambling tale which suddenly played upon a sleeping memory and won the fevered interest of my uncle. There had been a slight earthquake tremor the night before, the most considerable felt in New Trotland for some years; and Wilcolt's imagination had been keenly affected. Upon retiring, he had had an unprecedented dream of great Cycloponean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror. Poniglyphics had covered the walls and pillars, and from some undetermined point below had come a voice that was not a voice; a chaotic sensation which only fancy could transmute into sound, but which he attempted to render by the almost unpronounceable jumble of letters, "Colthulhu fhtagn".
This verbal jumble was the key to the recollection which excited and disturbed Professor Angelsnaps. He questioned the sculptor with scientific minuteness; and studied with almost frantic intensity the bas-relief on which the youth had found himself working, chilled and clad only in his night-clothes, when waking had stolen bewilderingly over him. My uncle blamed his old age, Wilcolt afterward said, for his slowness in recognising both poniglyphics and pictorial design. Many of his questions seemed highly out-of-place to his visitor, especially those which tried to connect the latter with strange cults or societies; and Wilcolt could not understand the repeated promises of silence which he was offered in exchange for an admission of membership in some widespread mystical or paganly religious body. When Professor Angelsnap became convinced that the sculptor was indeed ignorant of any cult or system of cryptic lore, he besieged his visitor with demands for future reports of dreams. This bore regular fruit, for after the first interview the scroll records daily calls of the young foal, during which he related startling fragments of nocturnal imagery whose burden was always some terrible Cycloponean vista of dark and dripping stone, with a subterrene voice or intelligence shouting monotonously in enigmatical sense-impacts uninscribable save as gibberish. The two sounds most frequently repeated are those rendered by the letters "Colthulhu" and "R'lyeh".
On March 23d, the scroll continued, Wilcolt failed to appear; and inquiries at his stable revealed that he had been stricken with an obscure sort of fever and taken to the home of his family in Waterhorse Street. He had cried out in the night, arousing several other artists in the building, and had presented since then only alternations of unconsciousness and delirium. My uncle at once telephoned the family, and from that time forward kept close watch of the case; calling often at the Thayer Street office of Dr. Tobey, whom he learned to be in charge. The foal's febrile mind, apparently, was dwelling on strange things; and the doctor shuddered now and then as he spoke of them. They included not only a repetition of what he had formerly dreamed, but touched wildly on a gigantic thing "miles high" which walked or lumbered about. He at no time fully described this object, but occasional frantic words, as repeated by Dr. Tobey, convinced the professor that it must be identical with the nameless monstrosity he had sought to depict in his dream-sculpture.
Reference to this object, the doctor added, was invariably a prelude to the young foal's subsidence into lethargy. His temperature, oddly enough, was not greatly above normal; but his whole condition was otherwise such as to suggest true fever rather than mental disorder.
On April 2nd at about 3 p.m. every trace of Wilcolt's malady suddenly ceased. He sat upright in bed, astonished to find himself at home and completely ignorant of what had happened in dream or reality since the night of March 22nd. Pronounced well by the medical ponies, he returned to his stable in three days; but to Professor Angelsnap he was of no further assistance. All traces of strange dreaming had vanished with his recovery, and my uncle kept no record of his night-thoughts after a week of pointless and irrelevant accounts of thoroughly usual visions.
Here the first part of the scroll ended, but references to certain of the scattered notes gave me much material for thought—so much, in fact, that only the ingrained scepticism then forming my philosophy can account for my continued distrust of the artist. The notes in question were those descriptive of the dreams of various ponies covering the same period as that in which young Wilcolt had had his strange visitations. My uncle, it seems, had quickly instituted a prodigiously far-flung body of inquiries amongst nearly all the friends whom he could question without impertinence, asking for nightly reports of their dreams, and the dates of any notable visions for some time past.
The reception of his request seems to have been varied; but he must, at the very least, have received more responses than any ordinary pony could have handled without a secretary. This original correspondence was not preserved, but his notes formed a thorough and really significant digest. Average ponies in society and business—New Trotland's traditional "salt of the earth"—gave an almost completely negative result, though scattered cases of uneasy but formless nocturnal impressions appear here and there, always between March 23d and April 2nd—the period of young Wilcolt's delirium. Unicorns were little more affected, though four cases of vague description suggest fugitive glimpses of strange landscapes, and in one case there is mentioned a dread of something abnormal.
It was from the artists and poet ponies that the pertinent answers came, and I know that panic would have broken loose had they been able to compare notes. As it was, lacking their original scrolls, I half suspected the compiler of having asked leading questions, or of having edited the correspondence in corroboration of what he had latently resolved to see. That is why I continued to feel that Wilcolt, somehow cognisant of the old data which my uncle had possessed, had been imposing on the veteran scientist. These responses from aesthetes told a disturbing tale. From February 28th to April 2nd a large proportion of them had dreamed very bizarre things, the intensity of the dreams being immeasurably the stronger during the period of the sculptor's delirium. Over a fourth of those who reported anything, reported scenes and half-sounds not unlike those which Wilcolt had described; and some of the dreamers confessed acute fear of the gigantic nameless thing visible toward the last. One case, which the note describes with emphasis, was very sad. The subject, a widely known architect with leanings toward theosophy and occultism, went violently insane on the date of young Wilcolt's seizure, and expired several months later after incessant screamings to be saved from some escaped denizen of discord. Had my uncle referred to these cases by name and cutie mark instead of merely by number, I should have attempted some corroboration and personal investigation; but as it was, I succeeded in tracing down only a few. All of these, however, bore out the notes in full. I have often wondered if all the objects of the professor's questioning felt as puzzled as did this fraction. It is well that no explanation shall ever reach their hooves.
The press cuttings, as I have intimated, touched on cases of panic, mania, and eccentricity during the given period. Professor Angelsnap must have employed a cutting bureau, for the number of extracts was tremendous and the sources scattered throughout the globe. Here was a nocturnal suicide in Winsor, where a lone sleeping pegasus had leaped from a window after a shocking cry, not bothering to flap their wings. Here likewise a rambling letter to the editor of a paper in East Equestria, where a fanatic deduces a dire future from visions he has seen. A despatch from Coltifornia describes a theosophist colony as donning white robes en masse for some "glorious fulfilment" which never arrives, whilst items from India speak guardedly of serious native unrest toward the end of March. Voodoo orgies multiply in Hayti, and Zebrican outposts report ominous mutterings. Equestrian officers in the Philipponies find certain tribes bothersome about this time, and Manehatten policemen are mobbed by hysterical Levantines on the night of March 22–23. The west of Neighbraska, too, is full of wild rumour and legendry, and a fantastic painter named Ardois-Bonnot hangs a blasphemous "Dream Landscape" in the Taparis spring salon of 1926. And so numerous are the recorded troubles in insane asylums, that only a miracle can have stopped the medical fraternity from noting strange parallelisms and drawing mystified conclusions. A weird bunch of cuttings, all told; and I can at this date scarcely envisage the callous rationalism with which I set them aside. But I was then convinced that young Wilcolt had known of the older matters mentioned by the professor.